If you listen to metal often, you may have come across his name at some point. I’m surprised that this guy isn’t a legend by now. I think he is one of the most creative and yet underrated guitarists to grace the metal scene today. Yeah, some guitarists like John Petrucci of the famous Dream Theater are nice but I think that Ron Jarzombek’s sound and style, unlike Petrucci’s, has its own unique sonic footprint while still being very shred-tastic for those who take a guilty pleasure in guitar shred music.
Ron Jarzombek’s career started with the short-lived S.A.Slayer. It was originally named Slayer but a certain pioneering thrash metal band had already made that name their own. I won’t say who. Ron joined in 1983 and stuck with them until the group disbanded a year later. I would put up something of theirs but it’s pretty mediocre thrash metal and I’d rather leave room for the good stuff in this post. If you’re curious, just search for them on Youtube. He’s only on their album Go for the Throat.
In 1986, Ron joined the band Watchtower for the recording of their second album Control and Resistance, which, although it never achieved mainstream success (obviously, since it’s on this blog), proved to be influential to nearly every progressive metal band to follow. Think Guns ‘n Roses meets the Mahavishnu Orchestra and that’s basically Watchtower’s sound. Ron’s guitar style really starts to shine here. Here’s “Mayday in Kiev” from Control and Resistance released in 1989 on Noise Records:
Here’s another song from the same album, “Dangerous Toy,” with one of the trippiest guitar solos I’ve ever heard at 2:05 in:
Are the vocals too “80s” for you? I wouldn’t be surprised. Still, I think the music is pretty amazing and unlike anything I’ve heard so far and this was released over 20 years ago! Unfortunately, they haven’t released any albums since then but apparently they’ve been working on a third album called Mathematics. They seem to be taking their sweet time with it, as personal and professional matters seem to keep popping up among the band members, so I can’t say when to expect it, though I’m keeping my eye on them.
From this point on, most of Ron’s projects are instrumental, and this is where things get interesting. There are two main projects: Spastic Ink and Blotted Science. Spastic Ink (such a good name for a band) has a very complex and stubbornly genre-less sound that seems to love utilizing weird and constantly changing time signatures so the listening experience is consistently exciting and wildly unpredictable. In addition to Ron, there is his brother Bobby Jarzombek on drums and Pete Perez on bass, both incredible musicians (you have to be to play this kind of music). Unfortunately, Spastic Ink is no more. They left us with two albums: Ink Complete (released in 1997 on Dream Circle and re-issued in 2000 on Jarzombek’s own EclecticElectric label) and Ink Compatible (released in 2004 on EclecticElectric). They’re both very good but if you can only pick one, pick Ink Complete; the WTF-factor is higher, the production, despite sounding thinner, is oddly more suited to the music, and it’s overall a more challenging listen.
Here’s “A Wild Hare” from Ink Complete. It’s a musical rendition of various scenes from Bambi. Rather than just interpreting the overall air of the scenes as music, Ron decides to directly translate the sounds made in the scenes into bizarre melodies. The result is not only more effective but also quite amusing and will sound totally mad if you aren’t familiar with the scenes:
Thankfully, there is a video of the right scenes set to the music for those who are curious, with Thumper’s voice, which is what the lead guitar is imitating, in it.
Here’s another wacky track from the same album, appropriately titled “The Mad Data Race”:
And to give fair representation to the other album, here is the opener “Aquanet” from Ink Compatible:
Then, there is Blotted Science, which sounds like the evil cousin of Spastic Ink. Ron gained some more fame for this project. It’s a super group that also features Alex Webster of Cannibal Corpse on bass and Charlie Zeleny of Behold…The Arctopus on drums, recently replaced by Hannes Grossmann of Obscura for their latest release. The sound is denser and more akin to death metal, though Ron’s style still shines through. Their debut album, The Machinations of Dementia, released in 2007 on EclecticElectric, is truly a product of the Internet age. All the guys recorded their parts in their own home studios and, as crazy as this may sound, they have never even been in the same room together until four months after the album’s release!
As for the material, Ron utilizes a 12-tone approach to composition for this project. Not the traditional approach that Arnold Schoenberg devised with retrogrades and inversions and what not but an unorthodox version that Ron himself devised that is based on the circle of 12 tones. He describes his method briefly here. I can tell from the titles on the album that Ron also took an interest in psychology and neuroscience but the interpretations aren’t as amusingly literal as something like “A Wild Hare,” since the subject is more abstract. Maybe someone who knows more about that stuff than I do could fill us in if they hear something. Here’s “Synaptic Plasticity” which refers to the ability of a connection between two neurons in the brain to change in strength overtime depending on how often it’s used. Tell me if you hear that:
The Machinations of Dementia is their only full-length album to date. They did, however, release an EP last year called The Animation of Entomology (I’ll admit that their album titles could use some work…) on EclecticElectric that should keep fans tantalized. This is “Ingesting Blattaria” set to a scene from Creepshow. (Just a fair warning for you entomophobes: there are LOTS of cockroaches in this video):
Someone should get this man to score their film sometime! I’d totally watch that.
Also, Ron only plays guitars that he made himself. According to Ron, “I am rather selective when it comes to guitars. For me, it’s easier to build a guitar totally from scratch than to buy something off the shelf and customize it.” That might explain the unique tone that he gets. He has some sick models, too. You can check them out on his website here.
You can visit his website at ronjarzombek.com to buy his music and merchandise. If you can, I recommend getting your hands on physical copies of the CDs rather than torrenting them not just because you’d be supporting the artist, as the argument traditionally goes, but also because the liner notes for the CDs usually hold descriptions of each of the songs. Most of the time, they just describe neat guitar and music theory tricks but if you’re really interested in knowing how he composed his music, you’ll get a lot from the liner notes, particularly his solo albums (I would’ve talked about them but I’ve already written too much. They’re more of a next step in appreciating him anyway).